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Justice still lacking in the Floyd Brown case

The Floyd Brown case is a travesty of justice in North Carolina that should never be forgotten. Because of corrupt, incompetent and negligent law enforcers, an innocent, mentally impaired man spent 14 years in a mental hospital for a crime he didn’t commit.

The corrupt lawmen – two Anson County sheriff’s deputies – finally got caught and went to prison for racketeering, bribery and soliciting payoffs from accused criminals. But the State Bureau of Investigations officer whose fabricated evidence sealed Brown’s fate remains on the job.

The misconduct in this case, as Duke University law professor and co-director of the Wrongful Convictions Clinic Jim Coleman rightly notes, “is another black eye for the criminal justice system.” That Mark Isley remains employed by the SBI blackens both eyes of Lady Justice.

That becomes even more clear as records in a lawsuit reveal new details about Isley’s attitude toward the case and how he mishandled it. The documents were revealed as the state settled with Brown, paying the 49-year-old $7.85 million, most of it paid by insurance.

Charlotte Observer readers might remember the Brown case. The Observer reported on the case for two years, exposing the flaws and lack of evidence. Brown was charged with murdering an elderly retired Anson County school teacher in 1993. But nothing linked him to the crime other than a confession SBI agent Isley said he obtained by himself without witnesses. Isley later acknowledged in a deposition that he did nothing to corroborate Brown’s alleged confession nor did he interview key witnesses or explore other suspects. Brown didn’t even match the physical description witnesses gave of a possible suspect.

In 2010, a judge threw out the case and freed Brown, noting that the six-page confession Isley said Brown offered could not have been given by him.

During the lawsuit, Isley backtracked from testimony he gave in 2005 that the confession was Brown’s verbatim account to saying it was just a summary.

The case was botched at several points, and Isley was at the center of the problems. He never talked to a van driver who allegedly drove Brown from the murder site. He never looked for nor found any bloodstained clothing of Brown’s. The alleged murder weapon had a bloody palm print that didn’t match Brown, but Isley didn’t follow lab protocol to confirm the results. He never followed up on alternative suspects, men who had robbed the murder victim two years earlier.

And new details revealed in the lawsuit question whether Isley acted properly in how he reported allegations against the Anson deputies he was working with on the case. Isley heard about the extortion activities as early as July 1994 but he didn’t file reports on the matter until two years later. Law enforcers are required to report such allegations promptly. Isley contends he “very likely” gave a verbal report to his boss earlier, but that boss is now dead.

Isley has never been disciplined through this whole mess. In fact, he was promoted in 2005 to his present job as head of the bureau’s Medicaid fraud unit. The promotion followed his filing of a racial discrimination claim for not being promoted despite an unblemished record.

Unblemished is not how we’d describe a record that includes the lapses documented in the handling of the Brown case. But those problems either didn’t make it to Isley’s employment file or didn’t rise to a level of serious concern for his bosses at the SBI. Either is troubling.

We urge the Attorney General’s office to act on this matter. Without serious consequences for such shoddy work, incompetence and likely worse, the public can have little confidence that this kind of behavior isn’t still being tolerated.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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